Archive for August, 2009

Liakhov: The Ivory Islands of the Russian Arctic

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

1818 Pinkerton Map of the Eastern Hemisphere

1818 Pinkerton Map of the Eastern Hemisphere

Around the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, Liakhov Island began appearing on maps of Asia and Siberia. This island group, alternatively called Lyakhov, Liakhov, or Lyakhovsky, is today part of the New Siberia Island Group. Though Liakhov Island had most certainly been visited earlier, its official discovery is credited to the Russian fur and ivory trader Ivan Liakhov, who happened upon the islands in 1773. Liakhov notes discovering a copper pot on one of the islands, now aptly named Kettle Island. While it is impossible to know where this pot came from, there is a good chance it was left behind by one of the two Cossack expeditions known to have reached the island in the first part of the 18th century.

Liakhov’s first inkling that there might be a land north of the Siberian coast came from caribou tracks leading northward across the Arctic ice sheet. Navigating his sled on the trajectory of these tracks, he discovered the unusual coastline that was later named after him. The most interesting and distinctive feature of Liakhov Island it is massive mammoth ivory deposits. Liakhov discovered such enormous quantities of fossilized ivory on these islands that he was led to speculate that many of the islands were formed entirely of the stuff. Further it is said that this ivory, due to the permafrost, was of such fine quality that it matched and even surpassed the elephant ivories of Africa.

Close of on Pinkerton's 1818 Map of Asia

Close of on Pinkerton's 1818 Map of Asia

Though we do not know for certain why so much mammoth ivory rests on the island, the most common route of speculation follows. About 35,000 years earlier, during the last great glaciation, this island was little more than a hill on the vast Arctic plain. Mammoth, rhinoceros, musk-oxen and other mega-herbivores roamed widely across the plain. As the glacial period came to an end, ice melt caused a global increase in sea level, thus turning the once great Arctic plains into an even greater Arctic sea. As the mammoth and other mega-herbivores fled to ever higher ground, they eventually found themselves stranded with limited sustenance and began to die off at an alarming rate. We know that the sea in this region has as many or more mammoth ivory deposits than the island itself. Liakhov and other subsequent explorers of the island group noted that, following Arctic storms, the shores were always littered with bones and ivory. Over thousands of years, these storms deposited layer after layer of ivory creating the impression, noted by Liakov and others, that the islands were actually composed of ivory. Of course, there are problems with this theory – most notably that the catastrophic nature of the event described is incompatible in regard to time frame with most contemporary theories of glacial regression.

To Liakhov and most who followed him to New Siberia the significance of this find was the staggering economic value of the ivory deposits. On his first trip, Liakhov returned to the mainland with 10,000 tons of mammoth ivory. Subsequent traders would score even larger payloads, some in excess of 30,000 tons. Within a few years of Liakhov’s discovery over 200,000 tons of ivory had been removed from the island. Even in the 1880s, after 100 years of providing the bulk of the world’s supply of ivory, travelers to the region noted no apparent diminishment of fossil ivory.

In 19th century, Europeans had a fascination with these islands and they figured prominently in two Jules Verne novels, Waif of the Cynthia (1885) and César Cascabel (1890). The story of Liakhov Island’s ivory deposits is also popular with creationists, who believe that it proves a Biblical rather than evolutionary timeline – though it our opinion the exact rational on this is inconsistent and confused. Today, Liakhov Island is the site of a Russian weather station.

RELATED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NorthernHemisphere-pinkerton-1818
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/WorldEH-pinkerton-1818
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Russia-cary-1799
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NouvellesDecouvertes-vaugondy-1772

REFERENCES:
Whitley, D.G., 1910, “The Ivory Islands of the Arctic Ocean”, Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute. vol. XLII, pp. 35-57.
Fujita, K., and D.B. Cook, 1990, “The Arctic continental margin of eastern Siberia, in A. Grantz, L. Johnson, and J. F. Sweeney, eds.”, pp. 289-304, The Arctic Ocean Region. Geology of North America, vol L, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado.

 

Senator Allen Quist, Finaeus, Terra Australis in Global Climate Change

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

1531 Finaeus Map of the World

1531 Finaeus Map of the World

We found it appalling, deeply disturbing, and extremely amusing to discover that GOP senator and two time Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Allen Quist has cited the Oronce Finé map of 1531 as proof that global warming is cyclical and consequently not problematic. While the idea that a policy maker’s environmental voting record may have been influenced by scientific presumptions based on a speculative map that went out of date 400 years ago is profoundly distressing, we find it interesting to delve into this claim a little more deeply. Quist’s misreading of the Finé, or as it is more commonly known Fineaus, map is a result of a failure in due diligence compounded by a profound lack of understanding regarding cartography in general and antiquarian cartography in specific, a gross misreading of this specific map, and a misunderstanding of climate change.

The map in question is indeed, without a doubt, a cartographic masterpiece. Finé was a French mathematician and scholar active in the early 16th century. Cartographically he is best known for introducing the cordiform projection, recognizable for its distinctive heart shape. Finé’s map is a combination of information gleaned from contemporary explorations, including the voyage of Magellan, as well as from existing geographical publications. His cartographic work as a whole attempts to reconcile contemporary geographical findings and scientific speculation with accepted Ptolemaic geographies. As such, the Finé map combines both observed and speculative cartographic elements.

Quist cites Finé’s depiction of the continent of Terra Australis in the Southern Hemisphere as proof that global warming is cyclical. His hypothesis is based upon the false presumptions that Finé is in fact depicting Antarctica, that it is geographically correct assuming a lack of ice cover, and that the map itself is based on known facts. In our modern era of GPS, satellite photos, sonar, and other advanced geomapping tools, most look at a map as an object of indisputable truth. However, the actuality, especially regarding antiquarian cartography is very different. In fact, it might be compared with our mapping of outer space today. Few are shocked when astronomers speculate on the existence of black holes, pulsars, dark matter, and other stellar phenomena that are not directly observable, and yet, this is exactly the kind of guesswork that early cartographers such Finé were forced to engage in. When Finé drew his important map, the world was largely unknown. His job was to fill in the details wherever possible and use scientific speculation to work over the rest.

And so Finé’s map depicts Terra Australis. Terra Australis was not a new concept in Finé’s day. Indeed, it is based on the ancient Greek philosophical musings of Plato and is mentioned in the geographies of Ptolemy. It was all about balance. Terra Australis, which we deal with in some depth in an earlier blog post, was supposed to be a massive landmass in the Southern Hemisphere that counterbalanced the mass of Europe and Asia in the Northern Hemisphere. While the idea of Terra Australis was firmly entrenched in the 15th century, the first to actually claim to have discovered it was Magellan, who believed that Tierra del Fuego was the northern most point of the Great Southern Continent. This notion was disproved by the circumnavigation of Drake, which went south of Tierra del Fuego in 1577. Finé’s map was issued between these two important circumnavigations. When he writes of Terra Australis, “recently discovered but not yet completely explored”, Finé is specifically referring to Magellan’s erroneous notion that he discovered the speculative Southern Continent in Tierra del Fuego.

The presumption, by Quist and numerous pseudo-historians, that Finé’s map actually represents Antarctica is entirely false. Some, including Quist, claim that fine accurately maps Antarctica as it would have appeared without ice. The is only case if we spin the entire continent on its axis by about 30 degrees as well as enlarge it by about 250%. Finé’s form of Antarctica is based on antiquarian philosophy, obscure references in the works of Marco Polo, the presumed discovery of the Southern Continent by Magellan, and blatant guesswork. The presence of an actual landmass in roughly the same location as the Great Southern continent is nothing more than coincidence.

We also know from indisputable evidence extracted from ice cores on Antarctica that the continent itself has not been free at any point in the historical era. And of course, global warming is cyclical, but the dramatic changes we are seeing today are, short of a global climatic disaster such as an asteroid impact or major volcanic eruption, unprecedented.

While, in this case, Quist is guilty in little more than a lack of due diligence, the misunderstanding of the Terra Australis continent and the misinterpretation of its common appearance on early maps, is a common error. Modern day pseudo-scientists and pseudo-historians have cited the various mappings of Terra Australis, from Finé in the 16th century to Bauche in the 18th, as proof of anything from the existence of Atlantis, to the intervention of space Aliens, to the presence of time travelers, to God. It is thus disappointing in an elected official, though hardly surprising that yet another misinformed individual has jumped to yet another misinformed conclusion.

REF: http://minnesotaindependent.com/39870/gops-quist-says-antique-map-disproves-global-warming

Monomotapa, Mutapa, Ophir, and King Solomon’s Mines

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

1794 Bolton Wall Map of Africa with known areas circled.

1794 Bolton Wall Map of Africa with known areas circled.

Anyone looking at map of Africa predating 1800 will be immediately struck by its overall blankness. Despite Africa’s known coastline the interior was a mystery. However, looking at this same map, it is perhaps more interesting to take note of the parts of the interior that have been mapped. Until the mid 19th century, Africa was a largely unknown continent, however, there are a few places that appear in considerable detail on even the earliest maps. These include Morocco and Algeria, Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia, the Niger Delta, the Congo, parts of South Africa, and the land of just opposite Madagascar, noted on old maps as Mutapa or more commonly Monomotapa. It is this last area, the Kingdom of Monomotapa, on which this post will focus.

Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

Our story begins with the well known ruins of Great Zimbabwe. The construction of these magnificent stone structures began around 1150 AD and continued over the next three hundred years. We unfortunately know little of the history of Great Zimbabwe or its builders, however, most evidence suggests that they were a Shona people who migrated from the south. At the time, the nearby Zimbabwe hills were extremely rich in gold and other mineral resources and an active trade network, largely facilitated by Arab traders from the Swahili coast, was established. Evidence at various archeological sites around Great Zimbabwe suggests that, by 1400 AD, this trading network extended from the Swahili coast to India and China.

Around 1300 or 1400 a prince of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe conquered a territory to the north and established the Kingdom of Mutapa. Within the next fifty years years Mutapa had attained ascendancy, asserting control over much of southeastern Africa. The ancient capital at Great Zimbabwe was abandoned in favor of a more northerly capital with easier access to the Indian Ocean trade routes via the Zambezi River. Arab merchants, seeing a trade opportunity, established posts on the coast and inland along the Zambezi River at Sena and on the Solafa River at Solafa where the gold of Zimbabwe could be traded for luxury goods from India and China.

Zoom on Monomotapa from 1794

Zoom on Monomotapa from 1794

Such was the state of the Empire of Mutapa, or as the Portuguese called it Monomotapa, when the explorer Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the 1490s. Tome Lopes, who accompanied De Gama on his 1502 voyage to India, wrote an important narrative of the journey that was widely read back in Portugal. Impressed with the abandoned ruins of Great Zimbabwe and convinced that they could not possibly be the product of an African people, Lopes was the first to identify Mutapa with the Biblical land of Ophir and King Solomon’s Mines. Even Milton jumped on the idea in his epic poem Paradise Lost, where he also associated Monomotapa and Ophir. Back in Portugal, the reports of De Gama and Lopes led to covetous expectations for the region. In 1505, a joint military and trading venture had taken control of the Arab trading centers of Sofala and Sena. The association of Monomotapa with Ophir also lead to an dramatic overestimation of the wealth to be found in the Zimbabwe hills.

Monomotapa from Sanson's 1691 World Map

Monomotapa from Sanson's 1691 World Map

Within fifty years, on the opposite side of the world, Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro had conquered the Aztec and Inca Empires. Gold and wealth had begun to flow into Spain by the galleon. Dom Sebastian of Portugal, seeking to match Spain’s conquests in America with his own conquests in Africa, sent Francisco Barreto to Monomotapa to take over the kingdom’s legendary gold mines. Barreto’s push inland was initially successful with a number of important military victories to his credit. However, before he could push further inland toward the coveted mines, he was forced to return to Mozambique in order to answer slanders made against him by a rival, Antonio Pereira Brandao. This delay proved disastrous, for most of Barreto’s soldiers had in the meantime become sick and many ultimately died of malaria and other tropical diseases common to the region. Barreto himself also fell ill and died at Sena in 1573.

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of Monomotapa

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of Monomotapa

It was left to Vasco Fernandez Homen, Barreto’s deputy and successor, to finally push inland via Solafa. When Homen finally reached in mines he sought at Manica, he discovered their output to be much poorer than expected. By this time they had been exploited for several hundred years and King Solomon’s Mines were close to running dry. As for the Portuguese in Africa, they did not attempt another military conquest of the region, but did maintain their trading centers. By the end of the 17th century, the Kingdom of Mutapa had destabilized from within and was facing pressure from the Rozwi empire to the north. Ultimately, they were forced to turn to the Portuguese for military support and paid for it with vassalage. Despite support from Portugal, control of Mutapa changed hands several times vacillating between independence, Rozwi dominion, and the Portuguese vassalage.

In 1885 H. Rider Haggard revived interested in King Solomon’s Mines with the publication of his genre defining novel of the same name. Its publishers in London, Cassel and Company, touted King Solomon’s Mines as “The Most Amazing Book Ever Written.” Today it is considered to be the first novel of the “Lost World” genre.

RELATEED MAPS:
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Africa2-boulton-1794
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AfricaS-covensmortier-1730
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/SouthernAfrica-pinkerton-1809
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/AfricaEast-bonne-1770
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/TerrarumOrbis-bormeester-1685
http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/World-sanson-1691

REFERENCES:
Oliver, Roland & Anthony Atmore (1975). Medieval Africa 1250-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 738. ISBN 0-52120-413-5.
Owomoyela, Oyekan (2002). Culture and customs of Zimbabwe. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 163. ISBN 0-31331-583-3.
Stewart, John (1989). African States and Rulers. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc.. pp. 395. ISBN 0-89950-390-X.